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The Small Country School

In the past, that is before the major changes that took place after 1945, the small country school had a prominent place in the rural areas of Madawaska, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. The historical development of these small rural schools is not easy to track. We know that before settling the border issue between Maine and New Brunswick in 1842, no government wanted to invest in school funds for this region of Northwest New Brunswick because of the legal challenges. So only in the mid-nineteenth century did the government of New Brunswick begin to worry about the development of Madawaska, now under its jurisdiction, and to encourage communities to open schools. The reports of the school inspectors give a small glimpse of the educational situation in the late nineteenth century. In 1866, there were 17 small schools in the Madawaska region; in 1887, there were 34. In the 1888 report, Inspector J. Boudreau wrote “the old long benches and desks around the walls gradually disappear and are replaced by new seats, double desks”.

Most Madawaska residents born before 1945 attended a one or two-room rural school until the age of 13 or 14. These schools had rustic amenities: an outhouse, a wood stove surrounded by double benches with inkwells, small pencil boxes and slates (small personal chalkboards), drinking water in a pail in a corner, wooden floor ...

These are some memories that we like to mention today. For some, the happiness of the children attending this little “castle” depended heavily on the queen of the roost, the teacher. We remember her on the threshold of the door, bell in hand, or sitting at her desk, attentive to any “ba-be-bi-bo-bu” (recitations) or standing at the blackboard explaining fractions and the agreement of French participles or holding contests for quick calculation. Admittedly, the menacing pointer and terrible strap are some of the unhappy memories from these early years at school. It does not prevent us from having a certain nostalgia at the thought of this time when children were happy to go barefoot to school, to bring in the wood or erase the blackboard for the teacher, to be told to “go to the head of the line,” and then to come home at night to help with the “barda” or chores, before doing homework and studying tomorrow’s lessons, under the light of a turpentine lamp or for the privileged, the Aladdin Oil Lamp.

G. Desjardins
Université de Moncton campus d'Edmundston Société Historique du Madawaska Ville d'Edmundston Patrimoine Canadien